“Blue Note Records are designed simply to serve the uncompromising expressions of hot jazz or swing, in general. Any particular style of playing which represents an authentic way of musical feeling is genuine expression. By virtue of its significance in place, time and circumstance, it possesses its own tradition, artistic standards and audience that keeps it alive. Hot jazz, therefore, is expression and communication, a musical and social manifestation, and Blue Note records are concerned with identifying its impulse, not its sensational and commercial adornments.”
Alfred Lion, 1939, Statement of Purpose of Blue Note Records
Following on from Parts 1 & 2 these are my remaining favourite Blue Note recordings of the period 1962-1965. Jazz didn’t end then, but for me the golden age of Blue Note sadly petered out after 1965. Of course appreciation of Jazz is very much in the eye (or rather the ear) of the beholder. I do hope that you, gentle reader, find them much, much more than
Recorded in 1962 – Caravan
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born at the turn of the century, with a musical career that stretched from the Roaring Twenties to just after the Nixon scandal. Most individuals know Ellington for his work pioneering big band music, as a bandleader, composer, and brilliant improviser. Very few ever reference Ellington’s solo piano music or small ensemble work; mainly because he did not make many recordings of this nature. Caravan revealed a side of Ellington that was not often seen, and is an introduction to Ellington’s continued growth and innovation even in his later years. It was a more intimate departure from the blaring big band sound that he pioneered playing in Harlem at the Cotton Club. Rather than playing intense and challenging arrangements for a dance audience, the Money Jungle trio focuses more on creating and developing rhythmic co-operation. Improvisation in this setting becomes more of a group effort rather than one soloist at a time. On September 17, 1962, Duke Ellington, Max Roach and Charlie Mingus got together – with no rehearsals – for a recording session of trio music. All that the sidemen were given before playing were lead sheets with written melody and chords, and a visual description of the meaning of the piece. This recording represents the coming together of the older tradition and the younger bop schooled musicians. Mingus and Roach played music for musicians; Ellington was an entertainer who played dance music. Ellington’s music was being performed in dance halls and his larger more artistic compositions were reserved for concert halls while the beboppers were still in smoke filled clubs with no dance floors. This recording session was the summit of two generations that bridged the gap between swing and bop. It was the arrival of the avant-garde that would define the turmoil of the middle and late sixties. By collaborating with younger pioneers of more modern music, Ellington allowed himself to be pulled into new harmonic, rhythmic and melodic ideas while Mingus and Roach were able to gain the experience of playing with a master of their art. This recording session marked a new sound in music that helped to shape the evolving jazz movement. Ellington died in May 1974, of complications from lung cancer and pneumonia, a few weeks after his 75th birthday
Recorded in 1962 – I’ll guess I’ll hang my tears out to dry
Dexter Gordon was born in Los Angeles in 1923. He began studying the clarinet when he was 13, and was soon performing with other young local musicians, including Charles Mingus and Buddy Collette. During & immediately after World War II, Los Angeles had a flourishing jazz scene based on Central Avenue, where celebrities and soldiers would mingle in the many clubs. Gordon was a major figure there, playing saxophone with the best of the musicians, among them Sonny Criss, Benny Bailey, Art Farmer, Hampton Hawes, Carl Perkins, Larry Marable and Leroy Vinnegar. Though his first professional job, with Lionel Hampton’s band, kept him on the road for the first three years of the 1940’s, Gordon regularly returned to Los Angeles. In 1943, Gordon made his first recordings as a band leader. A year later, after working with Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson, he joined the Billy Eckstine Orchestra. It was with Eckstine that he first came to true national prominence. Eckstine’s orchestra was at the vanguard of jazz; Dizzy Gillespie was its musical director, and Charlie Parker, Gene Ammons and Gordon were in the reed section, while Sarah Vaughan played piano and covered vocals. It was a band that young musicians looked to for new musical directions. During the late 1940’s and early 50’s, Gordon staged epic tenor duels with another great West Coast saxophonist, Wardell Gray, and at that time recorded be-bop classics, including ”Bikini Blues”. But by the mid-1950’s, Gordon was a heroin addict and spent time in prison. By the 1960’s, like many of his be-bop contemporaries, Gordon moved to Europe, first to Paris where he lived in a red light district hotel, next door to the French jazz patron Francis Paudras, who was taking care of the ailing pianist Bud Powell. By 1960, Gordon, appeared to have gained control of his demons and was driven by a newfound sense of purpose. He visited New York in 1960 and attracted the attention of Blue Note boss Alfred Lion, who signed him to his label in November of that year. It was the start of what was arguably the most fruitful recording period in the saxophonist’s career. Gordon’s first two sessions for the label, in May 1961, resulted in the classic albums Doin’ All right and Dexter Calling, whose critical success prompted Lion to put Gordon in the studio again. He scheduled a session for Monday, 27 August 1962; it would yield Go, an album that the saxophonist himself regarded as his favourite recording. Lion had arranged for Gordon, who was then six months shy of his 40th birthday, to record with a younger rhythm section comprising 31-year-old pianist Sonny Clark (who had been making his own records for Blue Note since 1957) alongside two musicians still in their 20s: bassist, Edward “Butch” Warren and drummer Billy Higgins. Ballads were Dexter Gordon’s speciality and his interpretation of the Jules Styne-penned ‘I Guess I’ll Hang Out My Tears To Dry’ is an exquisite example of his ability to show his softer, lyrical side. He had his own hard tone sound and ascetic pared-down lines, which all great musicians have – and a way of articulating that was all his own. Gordon, one of the first tenor saxophonists to play be-bop, influenced countless musicians, not the least one John Coltrane.
Gordon died of kidney failure and cancer of the larynx on April 1990, at the age of 67.
Recorded in 1963 – Midnight Blue
Born into a Detroit musical family in 1931, Kenneth Earl “Kenny” Burrell began playing guitar as a teenager and soon found work in Detroit supporting visiting musicians. It was one such encounter with Dizzy Gillespie in 1951, that got Burrell his first session recording. A move to New York after finishing his degree at Wayne State University saw Burrell being used as a regular session musician by Blue Note, Savoy and other record companies. It has to be said, Burrell is a bit of an enigma. As a huge fan of jazz guitar, I hold him as one of my heroes. Yet he has never reached the popularity of other jazz guitarists such as Wes Montgomery; and the problem seems to be rooted in the question as to whether Burrell is a true soloist or just a great sideman. For me, he is both, but he makes such a fantastic job of supporting others that the spotlight does not shine as bright as it should when he sits at the front of the stage. Burrell’s place in jazz history is not in doubt, just his ranking in the league of solo jazz guitarists. His later work with Gil Evans (Guitar Forms) and his two-volume project Ellington Is Forever, not forgetting the classic Midnight Blue, are testimony to his fabulous talent. His guitar sound is clear, refined and raw, easy to recognize. Firmly grounded, he is able to play both blues licks and swinging bebop lines. Burrell also spent a lot of his later life teaching (becoming professor and director of jazz studies at UCLA) and encouraging young new talent. Still working, his influence is still being enjoyed in the world of music – and long may it continue.
Recorded in 1965 – Maiden Voyage
A leading figure on the jazz scene since the early 1960s, Herbie Hancock is also one of the most versatile, always freely integrating a broad variety styles and new technologies into his music throughout his long career. Born in Chicago during the Second World War, Hancock developed an ear for music early in his life — both of his parents having been music enthusiasts, although neither had any professional experience. Starting at the age of seven he was provided with lessons for classical piano, and only four years later his skills had advanced to the degree that he was invited to perform a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as part of one of their youth concerts. During his high school years his interests moved towards jazz, inspiring him to assemble his own jazz ensemble. With this group he performed locally before enrolling in the electrical engineering department at Iowa’s Grinnell College.
Hancock went on to earn degrees in both engineering and music at Grinnell in 1960, moving to New York immediately afterwards at the invitation of jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd. It was Byrd that set the promising young pianist’s career in motion by hiring him for his own group, but more importantly by introducing him to Blue Note Records’ co-founder Alfred Lion; Blue Note signed him as a solo act within the year, and Hancock’s debut album Takin’ Off — featuring the line-up of Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon, Butch Warren, and Billy Higgins– was recorded for the label in May of 1962, successfully establishing him a composer and performer of considerable ability. In 1963 a version of the track Watermelon Man became a top ten hit, and the song would subsequently establish itself as a standard.
The musical ability displayed on Takin’ Off caught the attention of Miles Davis and in May of 1963 the trumpeter invited Hancock to join his new quintet. Hancock spent the next six years performing with Davis, during which he contributed to numerous live and studio albums such as The Seven Steps To Heaven (1963), Miles in Antibes (1963), Miles Davis in Europe (1964), Four and More, My Funny Valentine (1964), Miles in Tokyo (1964), Miles in Berlin (1964), Live at the Plugged Nickel (1965). Hancock also continued recording under his own name (My Point of View (1963), Inventions and Dimensions (1963), Empyrean Isles (1964), & of course Maiden Voyage (1965).
The shimmeringly beautiful & effortlessly understated interplay between members of the Quintet of Hancock, Hubbard, Coleman, Carter, & Williams on Maiden Voyage captures Hancock at his finest as a leader, soloist, and composer.
Recorded in 1964 – Que Pasa (Trio Version)
Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silver was born in 1928. After playing tenor saxophone and piano at school in Connecticut, Silver got his break on piano when his trio was recruited by Stan Getz in 1950. Silver soon moved to New York City, where he developed a reputation as a composer and for his bluesy playing. Silver had a relatively slim resume when he cut his first Blue Notes as a leader in late 1952, filling a date vacated by Lou Donaldson; yet, trio tracks like “Safari” and “Ecorah” reveal him to be a literate pianist and composer who combined pithy modernist themes and an earthy swing with a facility that approached that of Herbie Nichols. It is only with the ’54 quintet session with Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, and Doug Watkins -who became the original Jazz Messengers- that the gospel of hard bop according to Silver was articulated. On the mid-tempo blues “Doodlin’,” the tenets of Silver’s prodding, riff-based comping style crystallized, while on Silver’s first hit, “The Preacher,” his knack for mixing blues and gospel rhythms with a fleet swing feel hits its stride.
After leaving Blakey in 1956, Silver formed his own quintet, with what became the standard small group line-up of tenor saxophone, trumpet, piano, bass, and drums. Their public performances and frequent recordings for Blue Note Records increased Silver’s popularity, even through changes of personnel. His most successful album was Song for My Father. As a player, Silver transitioned from bebop to hard bop by stressing melody rather than complex harmony, and combined clean and often humorous right-hand lines with darker notes and chords in a near-perpetual left-hand rumble. His compositions similarly emphasized catchy melodies, but often also contained dissonant harmonies. His considerable legacy encompasses his influence on other pianists and composers, and the development of young jazz talents who appeared in his bands over the course of four decades.
In 2007, it was revealed that Silver had Alzheimer’s disease. He died of natural causes on June 2014.
© DJM 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file